Machinery pierced his eye

A Herefordshire farmer who allowed a neighbour to use a piece of hay turning equipment, is liable for his neighbour losing his sight when a piece of machinery broke off and pierced his eye.

The Court of Appeal has overruled the decision of Cardiff County Court that it was a freak and unforeseeable accident for which the farmer, Mr Paul Street, who owned the haybob machine, was not liable.

Three judges agreed that Mr Street, who allowed Mr Geoffrey Ball, his neighbour at Lugwardine, to use the machine, was liable under the same health and safety laws which apply to employers in relation to protecting their employees.

Mr Ball would normally pay Mr Street for rowing and baling the hay in his fields. But on the day of the accident on 18 July 1999, Mr Street was away preparing for a wedding. He said that Mr Ball could use the hayturner anyway. But the court found that in doing so he became subject to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Health and Safety Responsibilities

The regulations apply not just to employers but to anyone who has control of work equipment. Even in his absence, he retained control over the haybob and had a duty to maintain it, under Regulation 5(1) of the regulations.

Ironically, there appears to be no such duty where the equipment is for personal protection.

The Court of Appeal rejected an argument by the defendant that a previous House of Lords ruling in relation to the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations established a principle that he was not liable. The employer of a milkman who got frostbite through a hole in the sole of his boot, only had a duty to maintain the boots against crushing injuries, the Lords ruled.

The ruling in Ball v Street sends an important message to farmers about their health and safety responsibilities.

In the judgment Lord Justice Longmore said: "Any lingering unease that a farmer can find that he becomes liable to a neighbouring farmer because he does his neighbour the kindness of providing service and equipment at a reasonable price has to be set against the importance of giving a proper construction to regulations implemented mainly for the benefit of employees."

Notes for editors

  • Brian Langstaff QC, of Cloisters, acted for Mr Ball.
  • Thompsons Solicitors is the UK's leading claimant personal injury law firm.